Justin Woodward – Creative Lead Chef
“Cool, calm and resilient.”
Justin, thanks for your time today.
“Thanks for having me.”
Can you tell me your current title and what company you work for?
“Creative Lead Chef at Interabang Entertainment. I work with my fellow chefs and kitchen engineers at our video game bakery to cook up some tasty flavors of awesomeness that hungry gamers can sink their teeth into, possibly smuggle seconds.”
What titles have you worked on?
“We have helped to cook up a few amazing treats but as far as full released titles our team released an iOS title Shinobi Ninja Attacks and then moved onto Super Comboman with our collaborator Adult Swim Games. After the initial release we teamed up with Flashman Games to release our delectable treat Super Comboman: Don’t Mash Edition on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Our next project is a game based on the film characters called, Jay and Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch.”
I love the look of Super Comboman. I watched some speedruns of the game. They were nuts. What are the responsibilities of a Creative Chef? Can I get more insight into what your typical workday looks like?
“Thanks, glad you dig the eye candy! Let me put down my spatula for a minute. That one is tough. I lead the team in order to formulate a plan to create a tasty treat. I helped by adding spice to the combat, pushed the team to add sweet movement and delicious art and animation, ya dig?”
“Also, I am the co-founder and have multiple aspects of the business I have to attend to. Washing dishes, sharpening knives, taking out the trash, raising funds, business development. You name it I have done it.”
“My typical day is meeting with the team, sponsorship meetings, publisher meetings, interviews, production planning, feedback on a range of items where I need to taste test the new elements baked in from the team as well as work with the artists on pushing the style forward, to help the resonance of emotion and resonance of the characters and environments in game.”
Whatever you need to do to keep the food slanging out of the kitchen. That’s a lot of different things. You have to wear different hats and have different perspectives depending on the needs and challenges in front of you. Let’s go back a bit. You didn’t just become the Creative Chef overnight. You started somewhere. Where did you grow up?
“Definitely did not build the company overnight. Burnt a lot of hot dogs and served a lot of hard biscuits before releasing our first meal. I was born in Columbus, Ohio and retreated with my single Mom at the age of 6 to Sunny San Diego, where I grew up . She wanted me to have opportunities she did not have when she was growing up.”
I’m midwest born as well and also raised there. I’m no stranger to snow. In San Diego, can you remember your first experience with a video game?
“The first experience is difficult to remember, I remember playing games since I was 4 in New Jersey on Atari. I do however remember the first game I owned. One Spring a friend of my Mom’s bought me a Nintendo out of gratitude for teaching her son how to read and although it came with Mario Bros. I begged them to buy me Contra because of the amazing box art. I was hooked! I also remember convincing my Mom to let me go with her to fold clothes at the laundromat with the not so secret agenda of smuggling the extra quarters to play Bad Dudes and Street Smart. I also remember her keeping an eye on the games that I liked at the local game store and even though she couldn’t afford it, she surprised me with Megaman 2 for Christmas. I have a ton of fond memories of games which brought me to my life’s mission.”
“I think that my greatest accomplishment is learning how to successfully cultivate a team. That takes iteration, learning and understanding of what vision you want for your company and team dynamics to be.”
Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right B, A, Start. Begging for quarters is a right of passage few get to experience nowadays.
True, definitely a more tactile experience that involves more than just a download. Back in my day I tells ya!
How did you get your first game job? If I remember correctly, you were right out of school (or maybe still in school) and you were part of a “reality game dev show”, right?
“Nah, I was in the business 3 years prior to that after graduating with a degree in game art and design. We were at an incubator at IGN and that as where we did the pilot for the reality game dev show, The Next Game Boss, which we actually came up with. [Laughs] At that time I was in my masters program for game production and business management. I worked pretty hard at game art in college, built up my portfolio, made connections and networked my way into the AAA game market. The hustle is real! [Laughs]”
It sure is. What school did you get your initial degree from?
“Don’t really want to say, ugh. I will say that I received my Masters at UAT which was a great experience.”
That school was that good, huh? Ok, how did you get your first game job? Where was it and what were you hired to do?
“I made a lot of friends during college, some of which helped me start Interabang and work with me to this day. I don’t regret going to that particular school, but I would have planned out my education a bit better.”
“People knew me as a dude who really hustled and worked hard. I went to school after hours to work on my portfolio, asked the teacher questions and began to put together industry events where I could meet people who were either hiring or could become mentors to me. Through that networking, I was able to establish relationships with HR from various companies. When they were looking to hire and I started to meet with them on a casual or a professional business tip, they already knew who I was and they knew that I possessed soft and hard skills and were down to take a chance. The first place was at THQ in San Diego where I did a 3-4 month bid before things stopped working out and I started on my independent grind.”
You made your first real game job. That’s awesome. Your key ingredient seems to be “hustle”.
“Yeah for sure, first is Hustle. Second is Resilience coupled with a willingness to die before you quit. Also a realization that you won’t die before you have some success that will help to fuel your passion to succeed.”
You have to drive yourself. No one else is going to kick you into gear. With all your self-motivation, what professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
“[Pauses] That is tough as I am still learning and evolving. I think that my greatest accomplishment is learning how to successfully cultivate a team. That takes iteration, learning and understanding of what vision you want for your company and team dynamics to be.”
Building the right team dynamic is difficult. Maintaining it is harder. But I believe it is essential to creating the best product. How do you like to spend your free time?
“I completely agree. With my free time I like to explore. I love to draw, make music, write and study film in my free time. I like to do all of the above with friends and family.”
How do you stay up on the latest trends? Are their websites you frequent? Twitter hashtags you follow?
“I use Feedly to fast track content that I want to checkout on a daily basis. I play games on the regular, attend meetups and also put together events with my company The MIX. I love connecting with people in order to see what they are interested in.”
“I am not super big into Twitter but I check my Facebook feed for trends as well as Instagram and blogs.”
Are there any new trends in the game industry that have peaked your interest?
“Emotion based storytelling interests me. Immersive VR and AR experiences are very intriguing to me as I feel there will be an interesting intersect in the near future with the emergence of technology that stems from experimentation.”
VR and AR are the new frontier, for sure. What one game has influenced you the most?
“Can’t say a particular game as I love the art form. Sounds hippie I know but there a few that stand out as landmarks. Heavy Rain, Street Fighter 2, Megaman 2, Ninja Gaiden Black, Final Fantasy 6.
How can people find you? Email, twitter, instagram?
“You can holler at me through Twitter: @icjman @interabangent. IG: ICJMAN and Interabangent.”
How would you describe yourself in one sentence? What is your tagline?
“Cool, calm and resilient.”
I know as a chef you have many pots to watch and keep from boiling over. I want to thank you for your time, Justin.
“Thank you for having me! You are awesome! Gotta go, the crème brûlée is bubbling in the pot!
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